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Andrew Morton on Europe's royals


Andrew Morton on Europe's royals


Adored or abhorred? Our royal families are the subject of intense speculation. With Queen Beatrix abdicating in the Netherlands, corruption scandals in Spain and a royal baby on the way in Britain, the chatter has got yet louder. So to add to the debate and to answer your questions, Isabelle Kumar from euronews talked to one of the world’s best known royal watchers, biographer Andrew Morton, who joined her live from Spain where he was promoting his new book on the Spanish royal family.

Christine from France asked: “Hello, I’d like to ask when is the right moment for a monarch to abdicate, in relation to the country and in relation to their personal circumstances? What do you think? What are the principles involved? Thank you.”

Isabelle Kumar: “That’s a good question because on the one hand we’ve got Queen Beatrix in the Netherlands whose popularity is at an all-time high and on the other hand you’ve got King Juan Carlos of Spain whose popularity is plummeting, and he’s not thinking, is he (not yet at least) of abdicating? Should King Juan Carlos be taking a leaf out of Queen Beatrix’s book?”

Andrew Morton: “The problem is this: abdication in Europe has always been a dirty word, ever since the abdication of Edward VIII, the Duke of Windsor, in 1936 in Britain, caused a constitutional crisis. But I think that Queen Beatrix has shown the way forward. It’s progressive, it’s modern and it shows that a king or a queen does not have to have the job for life, but can pass it on to another generation.”

Isabelle Kumar: “And when it comes to image, let’s remember that Queen Beatrix has done an awful lot to improve her image. When she was married, protesters threw smoke bombs, partly because she was getting married to a man who had been part of the Hitler Youth. How did she turn her image around so successfully?”

Andrew Morton: “Well I think the great thing about Queen Beatrix is that (with her late husband) she’s shown that you can come from outside a royal family and really make a difference. She’s done it by being accessible, by being very human and by staying very informal. And I think those are policies the Dutch people have responded to, and you can see as well throughout Europe this kind of new informality, and as Prince Wilhelm said in an interview just the other day what he wanted was to be treated as a human being, and I think that’s the abiding focus for the Dutch royal family. They are very human.”

Isabelle Kumar: “And has Willem Alexander shaped up his act? Because at one point he was known as ‘Prince Pils’, because of his penchant for beer and a good time.”

Andrew Morton: “Yes, he seems to have cleaned up his act and thanks again to another commoner, Maxima (his wife), who again was subject to protests and parliamentary inquiries because of the business of her father during the Argentinean junta. And again it’s a commoner who has give a sense of purpose and a sense of new vitality to the royal house.”

Isabelle Kumar: “And just finally – because the family isn’t really entirely devoid of controversy – there’s a lot of debate about how much the royal family earns, and the new king will earn something like 850,000 euros a year. That seems rather excessive in these times of austerity.”

Andrew Morton: “Yes, I mean any payments made to any royal family are always seen as excessive but they are far cheaper than the British royal family, who are the most popular family in Europe I would say, but also the most expensive.”

Isabelle Kumar: “OK, let’s go now to our next question.”

Manuela from Spain: “I would like to know after all these scandals about the Spanish monarchy if there will be a solution?”

Isabelle Kumar: “So we’re back to the massive corruption scandal which has embroiled the royal family in Spain. And I suppose the question is, is there a way out? How is this going to play out?”

Andrew Morton: “I think an awful lot depends on the course of justice. The fact that the Spanish justice system moves very slowly means that this whole episode is being dragged out month after month, year after weary year, at a time when Spain is really on its knees economically. And there’s a real sense of anger at Inaki, the Duke of Palma, over his behaviour, because of the perception that he’s been taking money from public bodies for his own private use, and this really has done great damage to the House of Bourbon.”

Isabelle Kumar: “We know the phrase ‘innocent until proven guilty’, but the royal family has very much distanced itself from Princess Cristina’s husband, Inaki, so has the die been cast?”

Andrew Morton: “Well I think the die has been cast in two ways. First of all, there’s whatever happens legally, so he could be found guilty or he could be found innocent but also he’s been found guilty in the court of public opinion because the evidence is there before everyone. I’m here in Barcelona, and a few years ago Infanta Cristina and the Duke of Palma lived relatively modestly. Then he took on this Institute, the Noos Institute, and suddenly they’re able to spend six million euros on a little palace as it was called.”

Isabelle Kumar: “And just briefly now, there’s going to be this new transparency law, it looks like a new transparency law is going to be passed in Spain. Has the royal family, the wider royal family, got anything to worry about?”

Andrew Morton: “Well there’s always been discussion about how King Juan Carlos earned his fortune, because when he ascended the throne he was relatively penniless, and there are discussions now about how much he inherited from his father, Don Juan, and did he pay tax on it. At a time when the economy is booming, nobody really cares, but when everybody is looking for every euro, then the cost of the monarchy and the sense that there’s money being taken through the back door adds to a sense of disillusionment with an institution that you should respect.”

Isabelle Kumar: “OK, we’re going to go now to our final question.”

Kevin from Boston: “Royal families are public figures. I wonder what the line is between their personal and private lives and what their public responsibilities are?”

Isabelle Kumar: “What about William and Kate? Prince WIlliam and the Duchess of Cambridge? Can they expect to be hounded by the press in the same way as Princess Diana was, especially now that they’ve got a royal baby on the way?”

Andrew Morton: “Well you’ve seen what’s happened over the last few months. Kate Middleton took her top off, sunbathing in the south of France in a private chateau. She was photographed and those photographs appeared in a French magazine and also in some Scandinavian magazines and Italian magazines. That resulted in court action by Prince William. Similarly in Mustique, they were photographed on holiday, so there’s a big difference between Prince William’s reaction to the media and the previous generation, Prince Charles and Princess Diana. They took very little action against the media but now Prince William is using the privacy laws, the European Human Rights Act, which has been imposed in Britain, in order to try and muzzle the press and stop them from publishing pictures that he finds invade his privacy.”

Isabelle Kumar: “How do you think they’ll be able to shield their baby?”

Andrew Morton: “Well, what normally happens, and it usually works pretty effectively, is that royal children have photo calls every so often. I remember I was at one of the earliest ones in Auckland in New Zealand where Prince William could barely walk and Charles and Diana sat on a blanket and played with him and some of the most delightful pictures of Prince William were then published. And then there have been subsequent photo calls when they started school and so on. So that has meant that the paparazzi stalking of the young princes never happened. And hopefully it will be the same with the latest addition to the House of Windsor.”

Isabelle Kumar: “And finally, what about names? I mean we don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl, but what’s your bet?”

Andrew Morton: “Well I’m hoping it’s going to be a girl, and certainly Kate has hinted at that. And I’m hoping that one of the names will be Diana, so finally Diana will be queen. It won’t be the first name. The betting is very much on Alexandra if it’s a girl.”

Isabelle Kumar: “Andrew Morton, many thanks for your insights. You can see who our next guest will be on our euronews website. Please keep your questions coming, we do appreciate them. From the European Parliament Studios here in Brussels, I’m Isabelle Kumar. Thanks for joining us.”

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